Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from a report by Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch , written by Jake Johnston. Click here for the full report
Since the return of the detained contractors, the US government has made no public remarks about the case. On Friday, Feb. 22, the State Department held an informal telephone briefing for members of Congress and staff interested in the case. In response to questions about details concerning the Americans or what the group was doing in Haiti, the official on the call apparently provided no specifics. But those questions are unlikely to stop.
On February 6, Haitian foreign minister Bocchit Edmond tweeted a picture after meeting with US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has become a “shadow secretary of state” for the Western Hemisphere under the Trump administration. The next day marked the two-year anniversary of Jovenel Moïse’s inauguration as president, and was the beginning of the street actions that would lock the country down for the next 10 days.
Haitian foreign minister Bocchit Edmond with US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
On Feb. 9, a delegation from Haiti’s central bank and ministry of finance arrived in Washington, DC. Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond was also in DC, and accompanying him were two individuals: Charles Jean-Jacques, a government official in charge of foreign development funds, and the wealthy businessman and government supporter, Andy Apaid.
TheMiami Herald reported that Bocchit Edmond had held discussions concerning a debt-financing deal, where Qatar would buy Haiti’s Petrocaribe debt to Venezuela. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Apaid, the Central Bank governor, and the finance minister also discussed the Qatar deal while in Washington. That debt is at the center of anticorruption protests that have rocked the country for the last five months.
The relationship between the Haitian and US government shifted in January, when Haiti broke with years of government policy and votedin favor of a resolution at the Organization of American States (OAS) declaring the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela illegitimate. Overthrowing the Maduro government has become priority number one for the White House and Senator Rubio.
With Moïse’s mandate under threat, the president switched positions and voted with the US. The decision was met with outrage, both in Haiti, and among other Caribbean leaders.
“Poor Haiti. They can’t withstand the pressure,” Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, told the Miami Herald after Haiti bucked the majority of its Caribbean allies and recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. “The current president of Haiti is just craving for US protection. That’s all. This guy came to the presidency entirely unprepared,” Gonsalves added.
But it is clear the Haitian government is seeking to turn the goodwill generated from its OAS vote into US support in its own political crisis. The delegations in DC also discussed an IMF rescue package (officially announced March 7) and met with US rice producers in an ill-fated effort to lower prices in Haiti.
That the financing deal with Qatar is gaining at least some traction now, it appears, is closely linked with Haiti’s OAS vote. There was concern in Haiti that, after switching its vote, the Venezuelan government would demand repayment. Haiti would be unable to do so — causing more financial problems for the government. On February 12, the Central Bank president and finance minister arrived back in Haiti, where the crisis showed no signs of abating.
On February 14, President Moïse broke a week of silence and addressed the nation concerning demands for his resignation and generalized unrest that had already led to multiple deaths and ground the country’s economy to a halt. He categorically refused to step down. “I will not leave the country in the hands of armed gangs and drug traffickers,” he declared in a prerecorded message.
In a comment that many are now reading more into, Moïse thankedthe international community for the “great support they give us, especially in the security field, which they continue to provide.”
Bocchit Edmond also met with Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton.
The next day, at the White House, Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond met with Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton. The same day, a passport was issued to Christopher Osman, one of the detained contractors, according to a Haitian Ministry of Justice document, and a private jet departed the Bahamas en route to Baltimore.
Haitian Ministry of Justice document regarding the passport issued to Christopher Osman, one of the detained contractors.
A private jet departing the Bahamas en route to Baltimore.
The Miami Herald reported that Haiti’s government had previously requested reinforcements from the United Nations, which has had police and soldiers on the ground for 15 years, but were rebuffed. Could the Haitian government have requested security assistance while in Washington as well?
I reached out to Apaid, the businessman who had traveled to Washington, asking if he would be willing to talk about the security contractors situation. He declined.
As of today, it remains unclear if these security contractors’ presence in Haiti is in any way related to the government’s trips to Washington, or if any US government officials had advance knowledge of, or provided any support for, the contractors’ work in Haiti. But, by facilitating the contractors’ release, the US saved the Haitian government from further embarrassment.
Based on interviews and records obtained as part of this investigation, it is the connection to this case of another member of the Haiti delegation that is most sure to raise new questions about the nature of, and official involvement in, this operation.